Women and Mental Health


There is a survey published today in The Guardian which indicates that out of 2000 women questioned in England and Wales, two thirds have had mild to moderate mental health problems. The survey was carried out by Platform 51 (previously known as the Young Women’s Christian Association).

The Guardian extrapolates out these figures to an equivalent of 15.2 million girls and women across the nations (England and Wales) surveyed.
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According to figures in the survey

At least 13% of women experiencing mental health problems had quit a job while 44% had taken some time off work; more than a quarter had been off work for at least a week, the research showed.

I was surprised by the size of these figures to be honest. I would imagine there has to be significant stress and distress to actually take time off work although I suppose ‘stress’ has a lot of individual interpretations.  I suppose the difficulty is in the definition of what is a ‘mental health problem’.  Again there is an indication in the survey that

The definition of mental health problems used in the new study includes low self-esteem, poor self-confidence, and stress.

I know that all these experiences can be hard, difficult and troubling. I’m not sure I’d necessarily feel comfortable about the classification of ‘mental health problems’. If we are including low self-esteem, poor self-confidence and stress, I’m honestly surprised that it is only two thirds of women and girls who experience these feelings.

Is there any adolescent girl who doesn’t experience low self-esteem and/or poor self-confidence at some point as they are growing up?

I don’t want to minimise the effect that these feelings can have but there has to be an indication of degree and when uncomfortable feelings particularly through adolescence become pathologised.  I am also concerned that this buys into a general medicalisation of some of the experiences of women in society.

I wonder if this is an implicit desire to classify some of a woman’s experiences as ‘mental  health problems’. I’m not saying that these matters cannot have a significant effect on mental wellbeing but is there a difference between having a less than positive and secure mental well-being and having a mental health problem?

I don’t have the answers. I have not carried out any research in this area but I feel uncomfortable at the large numbers of women who may be ‘classified’ as a result of these surveys.

The article goes on to say

Professor Louise Howard, head of women’s mental health at King’s College London, said the figures were “very interesting and relevant”. She said: “There is evidence that there is under-identification of people with mental health problems that need treatment.”

The research includes women with emotional difficulties as well as those with mental health problems, she added. “But any of the stresses that these women are reporting can lead to mental health problems. Depressive symptoms can persist and need treatment but some women will feel that they have to keep on coping because they have all these people depending on them.

Of course, anyone should and could have access to support to manage emotional difficulties and it seems obvious to conclude that these issues can and may lead to mental  health problems but I’m not sure how helpful the survey is by classing them as mental  health problems.

We know although I can’t provide the figures to hand, that women are more likely to be offered anti-depressants as a first choice ‘treatment’. There is a shortage of ‘talking therapy’ available on prescription and I don’t think it is necessarily the answer.

I wonder more about what global differences can be made within our society to work through these attitudes to self-worth and having a healthy society as a whole rather than pointing out people who don’t necessarily adapt as well – to create a more positive environment for women and men to grow up in.

Alas, the government has paved the way in promoting unhealthy ‘blame game’ politics. The so-called ‘new politics’ that seems to marginalise those who live outside their middle-class mainstream ‘norm’ will lead to greater stresses through public victimisation and state sponsored vilification of people, mostly women, who need state support to live and raise children with dignity.

Perhaps it is society as a whole that needs healing rather than the women who experience some of the difficulties highlighted in this survey.

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5 thoughts on “Women and Mental Health

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  3. I so agree that it is society that needs healing. I am sure that more people will become ill/depressed/stressed as a result of Tory government policies. That somehow it will seen/put across be their fault, and they will be encouraged to think of themselves as scroungers if they are lucky enough to be able to claim any benefits.
    There is no hope of any healing with the Tories in power. (Im not suggesting either that the labour party would be a lot better either)
    So, what are we going to do about it? Should we do anything, get involved in anything ? Or should we decide its not much to do with us, we are too busy and try to ignore it all? As S/Ws and or people who work in the caring industry do we have any responsibility to do anything?

  4. I could not agree more that it is is society which needs healing – and also that this looks horridly like reclassifying emotional issues as mental health problems to denigrate women and maybe try and put them in their place.

    I also agree with Mary about what this Tory government will do – and struggle to know how to respond. I guess we can just identify he most important things we can do – help those around us to be emotionally and mentally healthy – build our local social fabric and do what we can.

    I did a couple of things last night as a Town Councillor, more today in my professional role – its not getting overwhelmed and just doing our bit.

  5. Mary and Karen – thanks for your responses. Needless to say, I agree. From my position, I’m constantly thinking about what I can actively do to affect change positively. I haven’t yet come to any conclusions..

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